March 29th, 2007

RKO Radio Pictures

1. Sic Transit Gloria

Picture 'bout a Minnesota man so in love with a Mississippi girl that he sacrifices everything and moves to Biloxi...
IN THE EARLY WINTER OF 1927, silent film star Gloria Swanson travelled to West 50th and 7th Avenue in New York City to visit Samuel L. Rothafel, powerhouse showman, tireless promoter, and theater manager since "the days when pianists trebled 'Hearts and Flowers' whenever a Sousa march didn't fit."

It was there that Roxy, as he was known to his friends ("...and you may call me that, too, when you write," he would later advise his radio audience) eagerly gave Swanson a tour of his nearly-completed prize: an enormous, outlandishly rococo movie palace capable of seating almost 6000 people. The actual auditorium number was around 5900, but in Roxy's inimitable fashion, he upped it to 6200 in the press by counting all the chairs in the offices, lounges, and even the maintenance rooms.

Gloria walked with Roxy up to the upper balcony, where workmen were busy plastering the ceiling. Impetuously, she grabbed a trowel and inscribed "ROXY - I LOVE YOU - GLORIA" in one corner. Roxy ordered that it stay on the ceiling forever. The Roxy Theater opened on March 11, 1927 with Gloria Swanson's latest film, "The Love of Sunya", as one of the features and Swanson herself in attendance. The Cathedral of the Motion Picture had arrived.

In 1961, after years of declining attendance, failed revitalization attempts and numerous protests, the Roxy was closed and demolished. Roxy himself was long gone, but Gloria Swanson paid one last visit to W. 50th and 7th, accompanied by a Life Magazine photographer. There, in evening gown and boa, she posed amidst the ruins. Swanson was photographed in several poses -- one echoed the glamour and beauty of the old palace in stark contrast to its reality. But the most enduring image is her pose to the left, arms outstretched in one final gesture of exaltation and praise to the treasure that was; Gloria triumphant.

The corner of W. 50th and 7th in Manhattan is now home to The World's Largest T.G.I. Friday's.

Next: Let There Be Light